Tennis players ready to get back to matches and teamwork

  • Stevenson's Alaina, left, and Athena Kolli congratulate one another following a point during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season. Under new safety guidelines, doubles teams will be required to practice social distancing this fall.

      Stevenson's Alaina, left, and Athena Kolli congratulate one another following a point during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season. Under new safety guidelines, doubles teams will be required to practice social distancing this fall. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Neuqua Valley's Sofia Ramos, left, and Emiley Piao walk together during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season.

      Neuqua Valley's Sofia Ramos, left, and Emiley Piao walk together during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Cary-Grove's Alina Krembusewski, left, and Karina Los talk between games during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season.

      Cary-Grove's Alina Krembusewski, left, and Karina Los talk between games during the girls state tennis doubles prelims last season. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/11/2020 3:57 PM

Already, the ideas are flowing for "silly dress-up day."

That's what the players on the Cary-Grove girls tennis team typically do on Fridays during the season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And in what will be anything but a typical season this fall, head coach Therese Youel and her players are looking for any bit of familiarity they can get.

"They're talking about a 'Pretty in Pink Day,' " Youel said.

Tennis players across the state got word recently from the IHSA that their sport, along with cross country, golf and swimming, will be allowed to compete this fall due to being categorized as low-risk.

But as Youel says, a 'Pretty in Pink Day,' is a reminder that a return to high school sports is about more than just the competition. After the disappointment of the entire 2020 IHSA spring sports season being canceled several months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her players are saying that a return to sports is also about teammates and friends being together, having fun, and doing typical high school things, like silly dress-up days.

"It's been a long time since our girls have been together, because we also didn't have anything for them over the summer because of COVID," Youel said. "The girls are just so excited. They want to play, but they also just want to hang out and laugh and be together.

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"Getting to be able to have a season is such a hopeful thing for them. This has been such a weird time in our history, a tragedy on so many levels. And this is a way for them to have a positive experience while still trying to stay safe."

The Trojans should be competitive while they are having fun.

Youel brings back 11 veterans from last year in which Cary-Grove was edged out of the Fox Valley Conference title by Jacobs by a single point.

"Last year, we had a really good year," Youel said. "We have a lot to look forward to."

Meanwhile, Youel and other tennis coaches will have a lot to do as well, more than usual.

Safety guidelines will force coaches to put a priority on social distancing, sanitization, and monitoring their players for things that have never given them a second thought before.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Players won't be allowed to high-five each other, or shake hands with opponents before or after matches.

Tennis balls will be marked for each individual and players will be reminded not to touch another player's tennis balls with their bare hands, but to roll the other player's tennis ball back to them by using their rackets.

"Everything you can think of is concerning and is something we will have to be watching," Benet head coach Michael Hand said. "We will have to retrain the kids. You can't have doubles teams coming together after every point. You can't share balls, you've got to sanitize your hands when you come off the court. We'll have to build in extra time before and after matches to clean up and sanitize everything before the next match.

"All of these things that we've never thought about before have to be taken care of. But I think everyone is still excited. It's an uplift to have any kind of season. After last spring when everything got canceled, this is: 'Hey, maybe we're getting back to something that is a little more normal.' "

Benet is hoping to get back to a similar level as last season.

The Redwings finished second in the state as a team in Class 1A and return two of their top three players.

Likewise, Stevenson is also stacked again.

The Patriots tied for the North Suburban Conference title with Lake Forest, won their sectional and finished fifth in the state in Class 2A.

"We didn't have summer tennis so from a team perspective, it's all new for us getting back together. And as we get back into it, we are going to have to be thinking about things in terms of safety that we've never had to think about," said Stevenson head coach Lexxi Kiven, a state champion at Stevenson herself in 2013. "There's also a concern the girls have about juggling the workload with remote learning with after school activities, because remote learning will be very different than it was in the spring.

"But the girls are really excited. There's been so much isolation for so long. They are just happy to be together. It's going to be really great to have the support of each other and to go out and have fun. That's one of the best things about being on a team, to have that support system."

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